The problem of other minds: what it is and what theories answer it

The mind is very mysterious, so much so that sometimes we even do not understand how our own works. But no matter how well we can understand what makes us think of something, there is no doubt that the only ones who have access to our mind are ourselves.

We cannot go directly into the minds of others, but we can infer what is going on in the minds of others as well as we can prove with theory of mind … or not?

Do others really have spirits? How to empirically show that other people have mental states? These questions and many more have led to a curious and complex philosophical problem: the problem of other minds.

    What is the problem with other minds?

    One of the subjects most studied by epistemology, which is the branch of philosophy centered on knowledge, is the famous problem of other minds. This issue concerns the difficulty in justifying our belief that others have minds like we do. We infer that other people have mental states, that there must be something behind their behavior, and that it cannot be that the rest of the people who roam the world are mere automatons in human form.

    Although we are talking about the problem in the singular, it can be divided into two problems: the epistemological problem and the conceptual problem of other minds. Epistemological refers to how we can justify our belief that others have mental states, while conceptual refers to how we can fabricate a concept of another person’s mental state, that is that is, in which we rely on the imagination of what other people’s minds processes are like.

    The main characteristic that defines the problem of other minds is that it is a problem of justification of intersubjectivity, that is, of showing that everyone has their own mind, a totally subjective aspect and that ‘it cannot be observed in an objective or scientific form from the outside, apparently. We can only believe that others have a mind based on our own experience, for that is the only subjectivity we have access to. Only we know our mind, and it is only our mind that we can know firsthand.

    But even though the only mind we are going to know is our own, we can “understand” how others operate. The idea of ​​believing that other people have spirits stems from an intuition that concerns the mental life of others, believing that these other human beings who are like us should feel the same as us, like emotions, pain, thoughts. , beliefs, desires. … But no matter how much we see similarities between them and ourselves or created to understand how their minds work, it does not rationally prove that they actually have mental states.

    Far from surrendering or considering that only we have a mind, human beings trust others. While we do not have the ability to directly access the minds of others, this does not detract from our belief that there are other spirits and that every person we see walking down the street has the power. his. We can’t justify it, we probably never can, but we believe it, probably because, among other reasons, I was terrified of being alone in this world..

    A philosophical problem with many possible solutions

    As one might suppose, the problem of other minds has long been debated in the history of philosophy. No philosopher can resist wondering if other people have mental states, for this problem is so unlikely to ever be solved that it serves as endless entertainment for the most thoughtful thinkers who have plenty of free time.

    For centuries, it is a question of “proving” that others have a mind by using all the intellectual efforts possible. develop a theory that justifies this belief. None have been convincing enough because how can it be empirically justified that others have a mind based on a belief of their own, ours? Three got the most consensus.

    1. Other minds as theoretical entities

    This reinforces the rationale that other minds exist on the basis of the idea that the mental states that make up the mind are the best explanation for explaining the behavior of others. We infer that the thoughts of others are the cause of their behavior, although this inference is made only and exclusively with external and indirect evidence.

    2. Criterion and other spirits

    This criterion consists in saying that the relation between behavior and thought is of a conceptual type but not a strict link or an infallible correlation. In other words, the behavior does not show whether or not there is a mental state or a spirit in itself behind a certain behavior. however, this behavioral approach acts as a criterion for the presence of mental states, Serving as an indicator that something must be behind.

    3. The argument by analogy

    This solution is essentially based on how we are and extrapolate to others, being the most accepted of the three solutions offered. While it may be true that others are stupid automatons, there is enough reason to believe otherwise and that others, looking similar to ours, must have thought similar to ours as well. .

    As we do not have direct access to the experiences of others, we can only know about them indirectly. enjoying his behavior. Their behaviors serve as clues that allow us to understand what is going on in the minds of others. This is why we have recourse to the logical resource of analogy, taking our own case as our case.

    From our own case, we realize that our mind and body are in constant relationship, seeing stable correlations between thoughts and behaviors. For example, if we are nervous it is normal for our hands to shake, sweat or even stutter and when we are sad we cry, our face is flushed and our voice is cut off. Looking at these body-mind relationships, if we see that other people’s bodies behave the same way, we are assuming that the mental processes behind them are the same..

      Criticisms of the argument by analogy

      The only mind that we can justify its existence is our own, as René Descartes thought when he said “cogito, ergo sum”. This is why the argument by analogy is considered not to give enough confidence to justify belief in other minds, responding to it with various critiques. The first is that, as an induction, it is too weak to be supported in one case: our own experience. As much as we rely on the correlations we make between our mind and our behavior, so much we talk about our personal experience.

      Another criticism is that the relationship the argument postulates between mental states and behavior is too weak to be contingent, without providing assurance that the behaviors are unequivocal signs of a particular mental state. It makes sense to think that at some point in time a certain behavior may be related to a particular mental state, but in the future it may not be.. The same thought can involve different behavior both in ourselves and in others.

      The third criticism is that we cannot conceive of a foreign experience, and therefore we cannot know it. Yes, it is true that we can imagine what goes on in a person’s mind after doing something, but in reality we are simulating how we would behave, based only on how we act and not knowing how others really do it. In other words, we cannot understand another person’s mental state because the experience we have is based on our mental states, and these cannot be extrapolated to others.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Robles-Chamorro, R. (2014) Philosophy and Science: The Problem of Other Minds and Mirror Neurons. Journal of Philosophical Observations, Nº 18 ISSN 0718-3712.
      • Avramides, A. (2001) Other Minds, (The Problems of Philosophy), London: Routledge.
      • Ahir, AJ, 1953 [1954], “Knowledge of Other Spirits,” Theoria, 19 (1-2): 1-20. Reprinted in Philosophical Essays, London: MacMillan, St Martin’s Press: 191-215. doi: 10.1111 / j.1755-2567.1953.tb01034.x

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